Big 12 Weekend Primer: New Years Weekend

Posted by dnspewak on December 30th, 2011

With holiday bowl games and a national showdown between Louisville and Kentucky on New Year’s Eve, there’s not a whole lot of Big 12 basketball to talk about this weekend. But six league teams will still compete during the next two days, and most notably, undefeated Missouri will hit the road for the first time in 2011-12. And if you’re not interested in watching John Calipari and Rick Pitino scream at each other for 40 minutes on CBS this Saturday, Oklahoma State will host Virginia Tech on ESPN2 during the same time slot.

  • Missouri (12-0) at Old Dominion (6-6), Friday 6 PM CT (ESPN2)

Kim English and the Tigers Still Need to Prove They Can Win on the Road

Eight days ago, Missouri showed its human side for the first time this season. After obliterating the likes of Notre Dame, California and Villanova, the Tigers nearly blew a double-digit lead to Illinois in the second half before recovering for a 78-74 victory in the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. That second half stretch, which featured poor passing, forced shots and turnovers by every player on the floor, marked the first time Missouri had ever looked rattled in a basketball game this season. Though half of the arena was wearing black and gold, the Illinois crowd came alive late in that game, and it was the Tigers’ first experience in a hostile environment. For a team that finished 1-7 on the road in Big 12 play last year, this is the last major concern for Frank Haith to tackle: Can his team win on the road? Old Dominion may be 6-6, but don’t write this off as a down year for Blaine Taylor‘s program. For the uneducated basketball fan, losses to Northern Iowa, Vermont, Fairfield, UCF and Richmond may not look very good, but we know better than that. All six losses for ODU (also including Kentucky) have come against league front-runners with at least outside shots to win their respective conferences. Hosting one of its most important non-conference games in recent memory, Missouri will have to deal with a rowdy and electric crowd in Norfolk. Yes, the Tigers are much quicker, and they obviously have much better guards. There’s a reason Mizzou blasted an even stronger Old Dominion team in Columbia last season. It’s a new season, though, and again, Missouri has no reason to be confident in a road setting until it proves it is not the same team as 2010-11. The formula for an upset here is simple: The Monarchs need to slow the tempo and let their defense go to work. Kent Bazemore is arguably the best defender in college basketball, so expect him to hound Marcus Denmon all night, and ODU has a couple of decent shotblockers in Nick Wright and Chris Cooper. ODU isn’t nearly as big or physical as it was a year ago, but it is still a sound rebounding team that won’t let MU get many second chances. This is a Blaine Taylor team we’re talking about here, after all. If Missouri stays hot from the perimeter, it won’t need to dominate the boards to win. Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon need to initiate the offense like they did in the first half against Illinois, as opposed to that disastrous second-half stretch. If that happens, the looks will be there for Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 28th, 2011

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • From GSU To JMU: Georgia State is being lauded for its ninth straight win, a school record. But the Panthers aren’t alone in their high quality play. VCU has won six in a row and seven of its last eight. The Rams’ six victories have all been by double digits, which is the first time they have accomplished that feat since 1973-74. Drexel has captured its last four games, George Mason has claimed six of its last eight contests, and James Madison has won five of its last six, including three in a row on the road.
  • From CAA To NBA: Since it was a light week for the current CAA players and the NBA season beginning stole headlines, this is a good time to spotlight recent grads. The CAA is well-represented with five players on NBA roster. Former CAA players include Northeastern’s J.J. Barea (Minnesota Timberwolves), Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins (Golden State Warriors), VCU’s Eric Maynor (Oklahoma City Thunder), Towson’s Gary Neal (San Antonio Spurs) and VCU’s Larry Sanders (Milwaukee Bucks). The Association has had a player drafted into the Association the past three years (Maynor, Sanders, and Jenkins).
  • From HS SR To NCAA FR: Freshmen are seeing significant playing time around the CAA this season. All 12 teams have at least one freshman who is averaging better than 16 minutes per game and JMU is the only team that hasn’t had a freshman start at least one game. Four freshmen are among the CAA’s top 30 in scoring: UNCWs Adam Smith, Drexel’s Damion Lee, William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton, and ODUs Dimitri Batten. Four are among the top 15 in assists: Towson’s Kris Walden, Mason’s Corey Edwards, Delaware’s Khalid Lewis, and Drexel’s Lee. Three are in the top 10 in steals: VCU’s Briante Weber, Northeastern’s Quincy Ford, and Mason’s Edwards. Three are also three in the top 20 in rebounding: UNCW’s Cedrick Williams and Northeastern teammates Ford and Reggie Spencer.

Ryan Pearson (center) Is Brimming With Confidence For The Patriots. (Getty)

Power Rankings

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 22nd, 2011

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Welcome Back, Kotter: Several players who will see significant playing time are now eligible—their dreams are their ticket in. Of note, Devon Moore is back running Matt Brady’s Bunch. The star point guard and preseason second team All-CAA pick made an immediate impact in his 33-minute opening act. Old Dominion has received much-needed help and solid play from both Clemson transfer Donte Hill and freshman Richard Ross. The duo has Blaine Taylor pondering a smaller lineup. And last night George Mason welcomed back Andre Cornelius from suspension. Cornelius is one of the best defenders in the conference and a lights-out (but streaky) shooter.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: They’re just two good ol’ boys who don’t mean harm, and were not selected as one of the CAAs top ten players in preseason voting. But James Madison’s Humpty Hitchens and Delaware’s Jamelle Hagins have been the best two players in the Association this year. Hagins has dominated the lane. He is eighth in the CAA in scoring (14.6 PPG), first in rebounding (11.5 RPG), second in field goal percentage (60.9%), 10th in free throw percentage (76.7%), and second in blocked shots (2.5 BPG). Meanwhile, Hitchens has been an inspiring player in Moore’s absence. The numbers are impressive, too–17.0 points per contest, a conference leading five helpers, he ranks fifth in steals, second in three-pointers made and percentage and is second in assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • The Facts of Life: VCU senior Bradford Burgess and James Madison senior Julius Wells have each taken the good and taken the bad, and in their fourth seasons carry impressive streaks. Burgess has made 121 consecutive starts, the longest active streak in Division I basketball and tied for the most all-time at VCU. Wells hasn’t had a bad career himself. He’s started 108 straight games, second on the Dukes’ career list.

Andre Cornelius' Return Couldn't Come At A Better Time

Power Rankings

  1. VCU (8-3): The Rams are simply devastating opponents with their defense. In the past three games, VCU  has outscored opponents 92-21 in points off turnovers. After a 14-steal night in their Tuesday win over UAB, the Rams now lead the country in opponent’s turnover rate at 29.1% and are second in steal percentage (16.0%).
  2. George Mason (7-4): One up, one down. On the night the Patriots got hyper-quick point guard Andre Cornelius back from suspension, they announced reserve big man Paris Bennett was being suspended for two games. You can bet Paul Hewitt is ready for the start of conference season. The Duquesne game represented the end of an 11-day layoff for Mason, and it didn’t go well. Old problems surfaced even with Cornelius’s 11 points. They didn’t defend on inbounds plays and in open court, and were outplayed by Duquesne in an 11-point home loss. It broke an 18-game home winning streak. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2011

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Changing of the Seasons: Logistics dictate that in order to get all 18 games in by March, the CAA has to play one conference game in December. Last Saturday was slated for five matchups, and UNCW plays at VCU on December 17. Road teams went 3-2, with George Mason winning 65-53 at Towson, James Madison a 62-60 victor at Hofstra, and Old Dominion gutting out a 69-59 win at Northeastern. Delaware held serve at home, beating rival Drexel, 71-60, and Georgia State cruised by William & Mary in Atlanta, 66-34. The full conference slate begins January 2.
  • Changing Of The Guards: Freshmen, especially guards, are seeing significant playing time around the CAA this season. All 12 CAA teams have at least one freshman on their team who is averaging better than 16 minutes per game and JMU and Northeastern are the only teams who haven’t had a freshman start at least one game. Four freshmen are among the CAA’s top 30 in scoring: UNCW’s Adam Smith, Drexel’s Damion Lee, William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton and Delaware’s Kyle Anderson. Three others–Towson’s Kris Walden, Mason’s Corey Edwards and Delaware’s Khalid Lewis — are among the top 15 in assists, while VCU’s Briante Weber and ODU’s Dimitri Batten are among the top 11 in steals.
  • Changing of the Discussion: CAA fans are used to seeing Old Dominion, VCU, and George Mason lead the “teams playing well in non-conference action” conversation. And while those three are certainly doing fine, James Madison and Georgia State are turning heads with high quality play too. The Dukes continue to play well offensively but have won three in a row behind a staunch defense, something Matt Brady has never had the luxury of coaching. Ron Hunter’s Panthers have won six straight contests and are giving up just 47.0 points per game and limiting opponents to 30.7% FG shooting during the run.  The 34 points allowed to William & Mary were the second-fewest allowed in school history.
  • Changing of the Spotlight: It’s been a year of change around the CAA as many returning players have stepped into new roles and several newcomers are making an impact. Of the top 20 scoring leaders in the conference, 13 of them weren’t even among the top 30 in the league in scoring a year ago. The seven who were on last year’s top 30 list are Hofstra’s Mike Moore, Mason’s Ryan Pearson, VCU’s Bradford Burgess, ODU’s Kent Bazemore, UNCW’s Keith Rendleman and Northeastern’s Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith.

Bradford Burgess Is Smoother Than Silk For The Rams, And VCU's Defense Is Getting It Done At The Other End. (AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2011

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

  • Whew: Order was restored last week, when CAA teams went 12-10 and looked like The Association we’ve come to know. The 12 wins included several notable performances. Northeastern rolled St. John’s in Queens 78-64, and it wasn’t that close. The Huskies led all but 37 seconds of the game. Hofstra used a 20-4 second half spree to down previously unbeaten Cleveland State, 63-53. The win is doubly-notable because leading scorer Mike Moore was held to five points. Both James Madison and George Mason won their final two games of early exempt tournaments, and Georgia State (3-0) and Delaware (2-0) had undefeated weeks. Finally, VCU gave 13th-ranked Alabama all it could handle on Sunday night before dropping a 72-64 decision. The Rams led most of the second half before the Tide stepped on the gas pedal late.
  • Who? AJ Davis was 5-50 from three in two seasons at Wyoming, but hit eight of nine threes in a win over Rider and went 3-5 against Penn. Davis has now made 16-27 (59.3%) from three in five games for JMU. Davis scored the first 14 points of the second half for the Dukes in its win over Penn. Interestingly, Davis has scored 87 points in the second half of games this season and 27 points in the first half. His accuracy seems to be catching on. JMU as a team is hitting threes third-best nationally (46.9%). Predictably, that makes head coach Matt Brady nervous.
  • Wow: Delaware’s Devon Saddler is leading the country in scoring (24.5 PPG), but the CAA has seen many amazing individual performances. In fact, it forced the conference pooh-bahs to select tri-players of the week. Saddler, who averaged 26.5 points , five rebounds, and four assists in a pair of Delaware wins, was joined in the honor by JMUs Davis (23.3  and 5.7 RPG, hit 16 of 22 from three-point range) and Joel Smith from Northeastern (29 points and 10 rebounds in the St. John’s win, including 7 of 12 from three-point range) in the honor.
  • What? Why?  Non-conference gives way, temporarily, to conference play this week. It’s weird to jam in conference games just before exams, but it’s necessary.  Because there’s eight weekends in January and February and one Saturday is betrothed to Bracketbusters, the CAA is forced to play one week of Saturday-Monday-Wednesday-Saturday action, as well as play one conference game in December. This is that weekend. Ten of the CAA’s 12 teams open conference play. UNCW and VCU will face each other on Dec. 17. The move was made to allow VCU to play George Washington in the BB&T Classic this Sunday.

It's Tough To Find Anyone In The Country Stroking The Three Better Than James Madison's A.J. Davis. (CAASports.com)

Power Rankings

  1. Drexel (2-2): The Dragons played just one game, but it was telling. Drexel thumped Winthrop and had the look of a top-tier CAA team. The Dragons grabbed a lead and didn’t rest—they played harder and better. The result was a coach’s dream—a 10-point lead became an 18-point lead, not a four-point lead. Guard Frantz Massenat scored a career-high 23 points and hit 6-8 threes while directing the attack, and freshman Damion Lee continued to play well, contributing nine points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. What’s more, Drexel is close to getting leading scorer and top gunner Chris Fouch back from injury.
  2. Northeastern (3-1): For lack of flowery language, the Huskies just plain look different. They are big, long, and attack gaps.  They beat teams up and beat up St. John’s in every facet of the game including grabbing 53.8% of their misses on offense. The Huskies don’t give opponents the easy energy baskets, forcing opponents to shoot 21.8% from three (ninth nationally), and blocking shots on 16.8% of defensive possessions, good for 12th nationally. Because he a basketball coach, Bill Coen wants them to focus on taking better taking care of the basketball and fouling less often.
  3. George Mason (4-2): It’s impossible to figure out what to make of the Patriots. First, they took the weekend off. Second, while they’ve improved markedly since their first game we’re not sure what we know—the schedule strength is an abysmal 322th. Still, Paul Hewitt has one of the conference’s best players playing well—Ryan Pearson has three double-doubles and scored a team-high 23 points against Brown and 24 points against Albany He is third in the CAA in scoring (21.3 PPG) and second in rebounds (9.0 RPG). It’s worth repeating that freshman Corey Edwards is beginning to look awfully comfy in the point guard spot, and incumbent Andre Cornelius—one of the conference’s best defenders—returns from a ten-game suspension in less than three weeks.
  4. James Madison (3-2): The Dukes are firepower personified. You have read about AJ Davis and you know how well Humpty Hitchens is playing, but Matt Brady is getting yeoman’s work from Andrey Semenov. What’s more, senior Julius Wells is making a difference in stats other than FGA and Alioune Diouf passed up a redshirt to join the rotation this weekend to help defensively. All of this and their best player, Devon Moore, is still two weeks from becoming eligible. Of note, Rayshawn Goins opted for surgery and will miss the season, taking a redshirt.
  5. VCU (3-3): The Rams have almost imperceptibly improved in every game they’ve played this season. One key has been the exuberant play of freshman Briante Weber, who plays with as much energy as anyone in the country. His defense energizes the team defense. To wit, Western Kentucky was held to one field goal and committed nine turnovers in the last 13 minutes against VCU. Shaka Smart is getting unspectacular but steady play from point guard Darius Theus, and Brad Burgess is beginning to grow into his superstar. The Rams were in control of their game against Alabama on Sunday for 34 minutes before letting it slip away. To a man they know they need 40 minutes of effort.
  6. Old Dominion (4-3): The story of Old Dominion’s topsy-turvy season can be summed up by its last two games. The Monarchs built a 12-point second half lead against Vermont but gave it up and lost in overtime. The cause? The Monarchs were beaten on the backboards (48-37). Old Dominion just does not get killed on the boards by teams named Vermont. Next game was a brutal rock fight victory over East Carolina. Star guard Kent Bazemore is clearly pressing, and it’s impacting everyone. Bazemore is 8-37 from the field in his past three games, and when you tack on point guard Marquel DeLancey’s 1-15 you can see ODU isn’t exactly overwhelming anybody. ODU players will have to guard against standing around waiting for Bazemore–who still clearly doesn’t have the same explosion due to an injured foot–to make a play. On the bright side, Nick Wright returned from suspension and gives Blaine Taylor a different look. Wright can play high post and trigger the offense, but he can score—Wright put a 24/10 double-double on Vermont. Plus, Dmitri Batten had a confidence-booster in the East Carolina win.
  7. Hofstra (3-4): The Dutchmen accomplished something nobody—including Vanderbilt—has done. They beat Cleveland State. The Pride got a lot of little things from a lot of players, and none were named Mike Moore. It’s significant because Hofstra has to prove to itself can beat quality competition without Moore pouring in 23 points. That’s exactly what they got. Bryant Crowder returned over the weekend from coach’s exile and gave the Pride more versatility in the post. Still, it seems like this team will rise and fall with senior Nat Lester. It seems Hofstra wins when he plays well, and struggles when he doesn’t.
  8. Delaware (2-2): The Hens boast the nation’s leading scorer in Devon Saddler, but honestly the team is looking better and better because Saddler has tempered his shooting ways and gotten more Hens involved in the offense. To wit: Saddler had scored 32 points against Lafayette on Saturday, but in a tie game with less than a minute to play penetrated the lane and kicked the ball to freshman Kyle Anderson, who promptly buried a back-breaking three. And Jamelle Hagins played his best game of the year, a 13/14/3 block masterpiece. There is a very tangible meshing feel to this team.
  9. Georgia State (4-3): Though the competition has been McNeese State, Samford, Liberty, and South Carolina State, the Panthers won all four games last week to even their record after the 0-3 disaster in Washington. Ron Hunter still is not playing as fast as he’d like–65.9 possessions per game is 248th nationally—but they are getting contributions that are complimentary. Jihad Ali scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and went six-for-six from the floor, including four three-pointers in the Liberty win. That’s worth mention because if Hunter can get enough scoring from Ali and Devonta White, it frees superman Eric Buckner to make athletic plays without having to worry about carrying an offensive load. Buckner blocked a career-high seven shots against Liberty
  10. UNCW (0-4): Point guard Craig Ponder was hobbled all season by an ankle injury and finally gave up the ghost—he is undergoing season-ending surgery.  That forces Buzz Peterson to begin a revolving door approach to his point guard play. Tanner Milson, Freddie Jackson, and KK Simmons (two freshmen and a sophomore) will all take turns. We knew UNCW was young and Peterson would play the kiddies, but this stat bears out just how reliant they are on youth: freshmen have accounted for 145 of the Seahawks’ 242 points (59.9%) this season. Side note: UNCW was 0-3 from three in a loss to Davidson, marking the first time since 1996 it didn’t hit a trey
  11. William & Mary (1-6): It’s almost Bizarro World to consider Quinn McDowell—a first team All-CAA honoree and in the conversation for player of the year—took one field goal attempt in 33 minutes against Howard on Saturday. However, that sums up the slow start for the Tribe. Brandon Britt is playing better after his awful start, and freshman sensation Marcus Thornton is starting to figure out “good shots” in college. Most importantly for Tony Shaver is that Beasthoven made his first appearance of the year. Sophomore Tim Rusthoven hit went 4-5 from the floor in 21 minutes, scoring 13 points and grabbing six rebounds (four on offensive end). In the words of someone who was there: he was the best player on the floor. Shaver could not have dreamed of a worse start to the season, but the pieces are beginning to come together.
  12. Towson (0-5): The Tigers can say they played in front of the President, losing 66-46 in their home opener against Oregon State, coached by Barack Obama’s brother-in-law. However they are doing what Pat Skerry asks—continue to play hard and improve every night. Towson is actually a +4.8 rebound margin against the ninth-toughest schedule in the country. Sophomore Marcus Damas recorded a double-double against Oregon State with career-highs of 18 points and 10 rebounds. Skerry is near begging his team to cut down on turnovers, which continue to plague them.

Looking Ahead

  • Drexel at St. Joseph’s (Wednesday): The Dragons are 9-42 lifetime against the Hawks and have not won up at Hawk Hill since 1978. Drexel won this game last year and walks to the jump circle having never—ever—beaten St. Joseph’s in consecutive games. The Hawks will test them, as they’ve built a 4-2 record against a tough schedule. That said, Drexel may get Chris Fouch back and still have not played to their potential. This has all the makings of a rock fight.
  • Old Dominion at Northeastern (Saturday): The Huskies have a decidedly ODU look. They grabbed 21 offensive rebounds against St. John’s, while ODU was busy being outrebounded by Vermont. Matthews Arena is a tough place to play for CAA foes—it’s a hockey arena co-opted for basketball. Northeastrn has won two of the last three against ODU in the building. This is a match-up of minds: Bill Coen and Blaine Taylor are X/O, white board maniacs; and Northeastern is feeling good about itself while ODU is not, which probably puts ODU exactly where they want to be.
  • James Madison at Hofstra (Saturday): This game pits two of CAA teams that are outpacing expectations and this game will surely have tiebreaker ramifications come late February. Matt Brady has practically begged for defense. The old saying is that good teams win on the road, and they do so by playing defense. There you go.
  • Drexel at Delaware (Saturday): Drexel is a great defensive team, and I read somewhere that good teams win on the road by playing great defense. Delaware is preaching turn the corner this year, so what better opportunity to put on your turn signal than to beat the conference favorites at home? This is also the conference’s second most-hated rivalry. It’s worth noting that last season Delaware beat the CAA favorite Old Dominion in a December home game as well.

 Spotlight On…Northeastern

Bill Coen graduated four senior starters and the Huskies predictably lost their first eight conference games last season. However, they rallied late, winning six of their final ten games as sophomores Jon Lee, Joel Smith, and Kauri Black gained experience. Those three are bringing along a talented freshman class quickly and results are positive. NU is leading the CAA in rebounding—something they did poorly last year—and are aggressive with the basketball.

“Those guys have played here for three years,” says Coen. “They just have a different sense of confidence and a feel for one another that can only develop by playing together.”

The scary part for CAA opponents is that Ryan Pierson and Alwayne Bigby, two of Coen’s go-to players in the past two seasons, have yet to make a significant impact. What’s more, the Huskies’s biggest deficiencies are correctable: they turn the ball over and foul too much. Both are products of their aggressive play, and both can be mitigated by smart aggression.

Share this story

Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2011

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

 

Caught On Film

Check this clip out to see why William & Mary’s Quinn McDowell has earned the Twitter hashtag #quinntowin. Trailing by three, McDowell hits a game-tying bomb; trailing by two he converts a natural three-point play and then boxes out to get the deciding rebound on a missed free throw:

The Week That Was

  • Thud: Coming off its greatest season ever, the CAA is sporting a hangover. The league is 20-30 and lacks a notable win. (Old Dominion beating South Florida qualifies as the conference’s best.) What’s more, the early season has featured head-scratching losses. Preseason favorite Drexel lost to Norfolk State, Delaware lost to Radford (five wins last season), William & Mary lost to Lehigh by 25 points, and George Mason lost to Florida International. The CAA is a collective 0-3 against Florida Atlantic. While it seems silly to discount the notion of an at-large bid this early in the season, the conference has likely burned up any wiggle room it had come March.
  • Give It Up: Coaches have their clichés, and for good reason, but “value the basketball” has taken on a special meaning in early CAA action. The relative inexperience of CAA guards is taking its toll. James Madison is the only CAA team with more assists than turnovers (and that number is just 41/36). Seven of the CAAs 12 teams are in the bottom 100 in the nation in turnover percentage (the number of possessions that end in a turnover). Last season, seven CAA teams were in the top 100 of this category. Though they have played an impossible schedule, Towson sports an almost unbelievable 27 assists and 95 turnovers.
  • Frank Who? Old Dominion annually plays with a dominant big man, but coming into the season there were questions about whether or not Chris Cooper had the chops to continue the tradition. Early returns bode well. Cooper recorded double-doubles in three of ODUs four games, tallying a career-high 17 points and 12 boards against Kentucky, 13 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Howard, and 10 points and 11 caroms in a victory over Long Island. The senior forward also blocked seven shots and made six steals last week. Importantly, Cooper got his frontcourt mate Nick Wright back from suspension this week.
  • B-B-B-Baby You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet: Bumpy starts from banner players has contributed to the burgeoning  bummer of a season. Bradford Burgess, Rob Brandenberg, Kent Bazemore, Eric Buckner, Brandon Britt, and Julian Boatner are all expected to be team and conference leaders. For one reason or another, none have provided that beacon. The list includes Tim Rusthoven, nicknamed Beasthoven.
Share this story

RTC Conference Primers: #11 – CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 26th, 2011

Michael Litos of CAAHoops.com is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can find him on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take I

The conference has seen Eric Maynor, then Charles Jenkins, win back-to-back player of the year awards. This year, it’s a wide-open race.

 

Top Storylines

  • Encore Performance? Last season was undoubtedly the best in conference history. In addition to VCU‘s incredible Final Four run, George Mason and Old Dominion gave the CAA three NCAA Tournament teams for the first time ever. The obvious question becomes: How in the world do you follow that? The CAA is better top-to-bottom this year, which is great for competitiveness but lousy for at-large bids.
  • Disabled List, Midseason “Call Ups” A Factor: The CAA is going to look very different in January, as some of the conference’s best players will miss parts of the nonconference season for varying reasons. Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore, a first team All-CAA selection, is expected back in December from a foot injury. Ditto Drexel’s leading scorer Chris Fouch (knee). William & Mary’s Quinn McDowell, another first teamer, is battling knee problems as well. Old Dominion’s Richard Ross and James Madison’s Devon Moore return from academic suspensions after the first semester, and Blaine Taylor also gets Clemson transfer Donte Hill eligible.
  • Be Very Quiet. I’m Hunting Dragons: Speaking of Drexel, it will be interesting to watch how the Dragons react to being a conference favorite. Drexel has won at least ten conference games in eight of its ten CAA seasons, but has never entered a season with such lofty expectations. That changes this year, as Drexel is the only CAA team to return its scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks leader.  What’s more, Bruiser Flint’s lack of success in March is glaring: Despite those successful regular seasons, Drexel has played in the CAA tournament semifinals just once since 2003.
  • One Tribe, Y’all: Despite finishing 4-14  last year, CAA eyes are trained on William & Mary and its cadre of young guards. One year removed from an NIT season, Tony Shaver’s team lost eight CAA contests by five or fewer points, and seven of those were by four or fewer. Shaver played six freshmen or sophomores regularly, and that experience will pay tremendous dividends. Plus, senior Quinn McDowell is a player of the year candidate. If the Tribe can get a beastly performance on the boards from sophomore Tim Rusthoven, William & Mary may shoot up the standings.

What Does Shaka Smart Have In Mind For An Encore After VCU's Run For The Ages?

Predicted Order of Finish (predicted conference records in parentheses)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Tidbits – 03.17.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • When Jay Wright speaks, his Wildcat squad listens. The veteran coach knows how to communicate with his players and that is one of the reasons he has had such a successful tenure.
  • A key for West Virginia‘s resurgence this season has been the turnaround of senior guard Casey Mitchell. Mitchell, who was thought to be a consistent player for the Mountaineers, battled inconsistency and conduct problems throughout the early part of the season.
  • UNC head coach Roy Williams revealed guard Dexter Strickland has been battling a knee injury for a few weeks. Strickland’s health will be a key to Carolina’s chances of making a deep run.
  • Marquette has struggled with defensive inconsistencies all season, but they have had great success getting to the hoop and drawing fouls. Look for Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom to exploit the Musketeers in an attempt to get easy hoops.
  • #13 seed Princeton is seeking a monumental upset as they prep to face Kentucky. The Tigers do have a history of pulling huge shockers in March, as they stunned defending champion UCLA in the first round in 1996.

Southeast

  • Kansas State standout guard Jacob Pullen is battling the flu, but is expected to be a full participant in tonight’s tilt with Utah State. If Pullen is not 100%, one can assume Utah State’s chances for an upset get significantly stronger.
  • The fresh infusion of talent provided to Gonzaga by the emergence of Marquise Carter, David Stockton, and Sam Dower have been key to the Zags’ late season run. The play of all three will undoubtedly dictate if Mark Few‘s squad will make any noise.
  • Tom Izzo knows this season did not go exactly the way he wanted it to, but an experienced squad can be a huge factor if the Spartans make a run. Izzo is a great veteran coach, who has Final Four experience, so a big run may not be that surprising.
  • St. John’s associate head coach Mike Dunlaphas interest in the opening at Wyoming. Dunlap has a great track record as an assistant and a lower-level head coach and could thrive as the head man at Wyoming.
  • An interesting story has emerged about how Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor has endured bouts with alcoholism. His road to redemption is quite inspiring, as he did not let his demons put an end to his career.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Other 26: Bracket Analysis Part II

Posted by KDoyle on March 17th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor.

Call it what you want with this seemingly erroneous preamble of the NCAA Tournament known as the “First Four,” but the opening game of this year’s edition of the Dance could not have been much more entertaining. We have already had a clutch shot in the final seconds and an overtime game under our belts. Many people will not even remember that UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock even partook in the Tournament, but for a few hours last evening the stage was all theirs. Even if it is merely a play-in game—errr, first round game—this is the NCAA Tournament and keen basketball observers were no doubt glued to their screens and smartphones last night tracking the game.

Just as a refresher in case you missed yesterday’s look into the Other 26 teams in the East and West Regions, I elected to break down the 16 teams by inserting each into one of the four categories: 1) Have a legitimate shot at actually advancing far into the Tournament; 2) Can win a game, but not much more; 3) If their shots are falling and their opponents are not, they have an outside shot; and, 4) We are just happy to be here.

Ability to advance to the second weekend

(8, Southwest) UNLV—After the conclusion of the 2010 Tournament, there is no doubt that a bitter taste was left in UNLV’s mouth. The Runnin’ Rebels lost to Northern Iowa in the final minute and then two nights later, in one of the gutsiest shots in Tournament history, Ali Farokhmanesh drilled a three from the wing to seal the victory over Kansas. UNLV had to painfully watch the remainder of the Tournament and endure the arduous offseason pondering the question: “Why couldn’t that have been us?” Now, UNLV is in a similar situation, as they are in the 8 vs. 9 game again. They are an experienced bunch with Tournament experience under their belts; if they are fortunate enough to get by Illinois, they will ironically play none other than Kansas.

(12, Southwest) Richmond—The Spiders were upset by St. Mary’s last year, and this year they are the ones who will have to be playing spoiler. Richmond has arguably the most dynamic player in the field with 6’10 senior forward Justin Harper. To make a comparison, Harper is the Atlantic 10’s version of Dirk Nowitzki. Although he spends most of his time inside the arc, his ability to step outside and hit a three poses endless match-up problems for opponents. Harper is complemented nicely by his running mate Kevin Anderson. Richmond matches up well against Vanderbilt, but containing John Jenkins—maybe the best shooter in the Tournament—will be a challenge. Expect a variety of match-up and 2-3 zones from Chris Mooney.

 

Harper is a Tough Matchup for Vandy

(3, Southeast) BYU—It is painfully obvious that the loss of Brandon Davies has detrimentally affected BYU’s play considerably; in the first game after his absence the Cougars were thrashed by New Mexico 82-64 on their home floor. While there is little doubt that Jimmer Fredette is the face of the program and their top player, the country is now officially seeing that there is much more going on in Provo, Utah, that can be attributed to BYU’s success  other than simply Fredette. While a deep run no doubt becomes more difficult without the services of Davies, the backcourt of Fredette and Jackson Emery has the ability to carry the Cougars to the second weekend.

(9, Southeast) Old Dominion—ODU presents all of the intangibles to be successful in the Tournament. They have an intelligent and proven coach in Blaine Taylor, a senior-laden team with NCAA experience, and the confidence that they belong here and can win—especially after knocking off Notre Dame as an 11 seed last year. It is more than merely intangibles for ODU though. The Monarchs are quite possibly the best rebounding team in the field, incredibly tough on the defensive end—according to Frank Hassell: “We go 50% man and 50% zone”—and run a deliberate offense that minimizes their opposition’s possessions. Blaine Taylor has created a formula for his team to have success in the NCAA Tournament.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your Tivo: 03.07.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 7th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Four automatic bids will be handed out this evening in places stretching from Connecticut to Las Vegas. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Colonial Championship (at Richmond, VA): VCU vs. Old Dominion — 7 pm on ESPN (****)

Old Dominion looks like a safe bet even if they lose but VCU more than likely has to win this game to make the NCAA Tournament. The Rams and Monarchs split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. This game will be all about pace and one team’s strong defense against the other’s potent offense. If Old Dominion can keep this game in the half court, they can let their stellar two point defense and rebounding take over. The Monarch’s are the best offensive rebounding team in the country while VCU ranks #303 in defensive rebounding percentage. Old Dominion also ranks highly in defensive rebounding, placing them among the best overall rebounding teams in the nation, led by Frank Hassell, averaging just under 15/10 on the season. Over his last eight games, Hassell has been even better, averaging 19/10 down the stretch. Not coincidentally, the Monarchs have won all eight of those games and 12 of their past 13. ODU is #9 in two point defense but allows 36.9% three point shooting, #298 in America. That has been the bugaboo for Blaine Taylor’s group and the Rams are one team that can really take advantage of that. Four out of ten VCU field goals attempted are threes and they shoot it at a pretty good clip, 35.6% this season. However, that percentage drops to 33.7% when you look at CAA games only. The Rams must create offense through their defense by forcing turnovers. That will offset part of the rebounding edge ODU is almost sure to have. An energetic and aggressive defense can help push the pace and take Old Dominion out of its rhythm. The Monarchs struggle to shoot and score, relying on their defense and rebounding to win games most of the time. Shaka Smart should use some zone from time to time in order to force Old Dominion to make jump shots, something they don’t do well. Rebounding out of a zone is always difficult (especially against the #1 offensive rebounding squad) but we feel it’s worth the risk. VCU shouldn’t spend all game in a zone but mixing it up defensively will greatly help their cause. Old Dominion gets 57.5% of its points from two point range but they have a few threats from deep, most notably Kent Bazemore. He’s arguably their best three point shooter and also a terrific defender, ranked eighth nationally in steal percentage.  The Rams shouldn’t have that much trouble answering Old Dominion from the arc considering they have a number of quality shooters, including Bradford Burgess (16/13 vs. George Mason yesterday), but they need to get some looks inside for Jamie Skeen. The Wake Forest transfer has had a terrific year in Richmond and is averaging 21.7 PPG over his last three. It’ll be tough to score against Old Dominion’s interior defense but Skeen should look to get to the free throw line where he’s a 73.7% shooter. VCU is a good free throw shooting team overall and they’ve made it to the line on 41.5% of their possessions in conference play. Foul trouble for Old Dominion would open up the interior a bit and allow the Rams to spread the floor easier. VCU had lost four of their last five games heading into the conference tournament but seems to have found new life just down the road from campus in Richmond. They’ll be slight underdogs tonight but this is anybody’s game. Old Dominion will likely win the rebounding battle but whoever controls the turnover margin and the tempo will likely win this game and clinch the automatic berth.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

CAA Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2011

Nick Cammarota is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. With the CAA Tournament tipping on Friday, get up to speed on the conference and gain a leg up on your Big Dance Cinderella candidate research.

A Look Ahead… Postseason Style

  • First-Round Game to Watch: No. 8 UNC-Wilmington vs. No. 9 Georgia State. It’s not the sexiest matchup out there, but then again, what first-round game is? The teams split the season series and always seem to play one another close. This one should be pretty interesting, too, in that whichever team wins will have to turn around and face the team with the longest winning streak in the nation: George Mason.
  • First-Round Player To Watch: Northeastern’s Chaisson Allen. One of the more underrated guards in the conference, Allen has a strong build doesn’t seem to break under pressure. There will be no greater pressure than this weekend, so look for Allen to have a decent showing.
  • Team Most Likely to Pull an Upset: William & Mary. If only because they beat their first-round opponent, James Madison, during the regular season. That and junior Quinn McDowell is a threat from anywhere on the floor.
  • Team Most Likely to be Upset: Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams are really struggling coming into the CAA Tournament and unlike years past, they don’t seem to have the right demeanor about them to turn it around and make a run. Then again, that’s what this time of year is all about.
  • Team Most Likely to Win it All: George Mason. The Patriots have thoroughly dominated the league in the second half of the season and are playing their best basketball of the year at the perfect time. Look for this to be a two-bid conference, with both George Mason and Old Dominion capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.

A Look Back

It has been a banner year for the CAA on many levels, and still (barring some upsets in the conference tournament) it looks as though the league will be sending only two teams to the NCAA tournament. That said, the CAA can boast that it’s one of two leagues, along with the Big East, to have six 20-game winners. It also finished with one team ranked in the Top 25 (George Mason), has the nation’s fourth-leading scorer (Charles Jenkins). There’s a lot to get to in the check-in/postseason preview, so follow along as we recap the regular season that was and look ahead to the postseason that will be.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your Tivo: 02.18-02.20

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 18th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s time for teams to make their moves. This weekend provides ample opportunities for some to do so. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

VCU @ Wichita State – 7 pm Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Skeen Leads VCU In Scoring (14.6 PPG), But Is Also Top Ten In the CAA In Rebounding (7.7 RPG) And PP40 (19.0)

This could very well prove to be an elimination game. VCU has lost two straight games at home and now has to venture out of conference on the road. Wichita State has lost three games at home already this season, however, and probably has to win out and make a run in the MVC Tournament in order to have a chance at a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers don’t have a win in the RPI top 50 and those three home losses are really holding them back. VCU was blasted on the boards by Old Dominion recently (40-21) and it’s going to be hard to avoid that again in this game. If the Rams can’t create extra possessions through turnovers, it’s going to be a very long night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story